When venturing back out into the realm of romance it is easy to become overwhelmed by the power of emotion. If you are not on the alert, unhealthy past relating habits may creep in to infect a new sober relationship. One of the more effective ways to protect your recovery when becoming romantically involved is to set boundaries early on.
The challenge is that setting healthy relationship boundaries is easier said than done. To strike the right balance takes thought and planning. You want to preserve the relationship while protecting sobriety. Learn some ways to effectively set boundaries in your sober romantic relationship, while at the same time taking care to prioritize your recovery.
Some of the Challenges of Dating While Sober
In order to arrive at “relationship” status you either had an existing relationship prior to treatment or you have decided to start dating again. Here we will focus on some of the concerns to be heeded while dating in recovery. These might include:
- Dating begins to take precedent over recovery efforts. Dating can distract someone from their usual aftercare efforts, which can threaten sobriety.
- Poor choices made due to loneliness. Some may rush into a relationship too soon in order to avoid the feelings of loneliness that are common in early recovery.
- Dating distracts you from focusing on restoring wellness. Dating and relationships absorb a lot of time and energy, which can divert self-care efforts.
- Dating could set the table for codependency. It is good to be supportive of each other’s sobriety, but beware of becoming codependent.
- Moving too quickly into a serious relationship. Getting emotionally entangled too early can lead to relationship stress and drama, which might trigger a relapse.
People in early recovery are rightly cautioned to hold off on dating for a year after treatment. This allows time to build a healthy personal foundation upon which a future relationship will flourish.
5 Tips on Boundaries
When you do find someone special and feel confident about exploring a relationship with them, go ahead and set some healthy boundaries early on. Hopefully, the two of you are aligned in emotional sobriety as well as abstinence. Emotional sobriety involves adopting helpful emotion regulation tools that help to keep you strong even when confronting life’s ups and downs. When both parties in the relationship are in a healthy emotional place there will be less risk to recovery.
5 tips for setting boundaries include:
- Set the Pace for the Relationship. Setting early boundaries helps to slow the pace of the relationship. For example, limiting dates to two per week will still provide time in the schedule for meetings, therapy, or support groups while allowing the relationship to proceed slowly.
- Create Barriers to Enabling. Healthy boundaries define healthy relating. In recovery the couple is well aware of the signs of unintentional enabling or codependent behaviors, and can establish ways to prevent them through boundaries.
- Set Limits on the Relationship. Be up front early on about the types of developments that spell doom for the relationship. Define these and establish a boundary that allows the parties to discontinue the relationship if or when unhealthy signs appear.
- Prioritize Recovery. Whether it is one person or both who are in recovery, it is essential to define clear boundaries that protect sobriety. If the couple notices that recovery is taking a back seat to other interests and distractions they can stop and regroup. If the situation does not improve then this important boundary provides a path to dissolving the relationship in favor of recovery.
- Establish Relationship Check-Ins. When deciding to proceed into a romantic relationship, it is helpful to agree on periodic check-ins to discuss the health of the relationship. These provide a space for honest conversation about whether each other’s emotional and recovery needs are being met.
Finding someone special to spend time with can be a wonderful thing, but in recovery it just takes a bit more active planning to ensure that recovery protections are in place. Use these tips to help guide your own romantic relationship in early recovery. Each of them works together to help protect what you have worked so hard to achieve, while still allowing the space for a healthy romance.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and is accredited by The Joint Commission. We offer both inpatient and outpatient programs, holistic addiction treatment, drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to heal each individual with respect and dignity, and reflects on our ongoing commitment to meet new challenges. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.